I do not own any church music CDs other than ones featuring the Mormon Tabernacle Choir. I admit it, I love the Choir and they are one of my favorite parts of General Conference. Here’s my secret, in my head I have a Mo-Tab Conference Weekend Playlist that I would like to hear them perform throughout the course of the sessions. If they hit all three, then I call it the General Conference Weekend trifecta. I actually don’t think that it has ever happened. The hymns are my favorite three in the current in-use LDS hymn book. Here they are and the reasons why:
1. How Firm a Foundation: They already hit this one this weekend at one of the Saturday sessions. When I was a nervous nineteen year old, I spent my first Sunday in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania as a part of the Chang’ombe Branch congregation. I was still tired and jet lagged from the long flights there and I felt an extreme sense of disorientation in encountering a completely new culture. However, as the keyboardist fired up her instrument, and the familiar hymn began, I felt an overwhelming sense of calm that increased as the congregation sang all seven verses of this song. From that moment on, I felt a kinship with that congregation, because they sang all seven verses when I profoundly needed it to stop the creeping sense of loneliness that had already infiltrated my first international experience, so far from home. “The soul that on Jesus has leaned for repose…” It is still one of the best lines ever written, as far as I am concerned.
2. If You Could Hide to Kolob: Look, I know this is a trendy pick among Saints who like to consider themselves a little more cerebral and who like to contemplate incomprehensible doctrine. I admit, I am one of those people. Yet, my love for this song has an entirely different, less academic origin, and derives not from a General Conference session, but a Stake Conference in Pensacola, Florida. My mother had a systematic approach to Stake Conference. Her approach meant that we arrived at the Stake Center at least one hour early in order to park strategically in the most shady spot that was closest to the entry and exit to the parking lot (If you don’t know the importance of a shady spot, then you have never lived in the South). We then sought out, and obtained, the padded row of chairs closest to the chapel exit that was closest to where our car was parked. It was because to my mother, there was nothing worse than being stuck in the traffic of the parking lot after stake conference adjourned. She would rather us arrive three hours early and sit and wait for the conference to start than spend one unnecessary moment in that parking lot after the fact. This was drilled into my head so completely I will admit that now, I am nothing if not a strategic parker and I expect to be the first one out the door at pretty much whatever gathering I attend. Anyway, at one particular stake conference when I was about ten or eleven years old, President Holbert had, as usual rambled on for far too long and we were already running a good ten minutes over time. My sisters and I were starved. We knew that we could guilt my parents with this hunger (after all, we had probably been parked in those seats for five hours by now) and convince them to make a pit stop at Wendys on the way home (not eating out on Sunday was not one of our family’s strong suits, since we had to drive 20 minutes or more to and from church). I could almost taste those chicken nuggets in my mouth as President Holbert wrapped up his remarks and the choir stood up to do one final hymn. The hymn was If You Could Hide to Kolob. The choir began, what had to be the slowest and longest rendition of the song ever uttered. Somewhere in the middle of the “There is no end” verses, I turned to Melissa and singing along with the choir began to sing, “There is no end to this song, There is no end to this song…” and continued on and on and on into finally there was the last “There is no death above.” Ten minutes later, we were at Wendys enjoying those well-earned chicken nuggets. By that time, I didn’t remember what the words to the song actually were, but I remember humming that Ralph Vaughn Williams tune for the rest of the day, and then week, and since then, I cannot get it out of my head.
3. Oh My Father: Yes, I know this is another trendy Mormon, cerebral pick, and I remember getting very excited for a song that referenced Heavenly Mother when I was in high school. But what I love, and still love about this song even more are the lines “Yet oft times a secret something whispered, “You’re a stranger here.” And I felt that I had wandered from a more exalted sphere.” I loved it in high school when I felt differently from everyone else, I loved it at BYU when I felt like I didn’t fit in, and I still love it now.
One Million Bonus Points: Come, Thou Fount of Every Blessing: This song no longer is in the current LDS hymn book, but it is still my all time favorite, thanks to, once again, my mother (who as choir director for our local ward, always kept this in the repertoire). Every year as soon as Thanksgiving is over I get excited to pull out the Sufjan Stevens Christmas collection, if for no other reason than I get to listen to his rendition of this song over and over and over again. I am a sap, so every time it makes me cry, particularly as I sing out the lines, “Prone to wander, Lord, I feel it, prone to leave the God I love” (which describes how I feel about the mortal journey that I, and everyone else is on) and then arrive at the resolution, “here’s my heart, O take and seal it, seal it for thy courts above.”
If all four of those songs were ever to be peformed in one conference session, I could die a very contented woman.